Israel Keeping Eye on Syrian Moves to Dislodge Militiaman in Lebanon

Israel, closely watching events in Lebanon, has concluded that its interests were not affected by the Syrian-led air and artillery attack that dislodged Gen. Michel Aoun from his enclave in East Beirut over the weekend.

The assault resulted in the surrender of the anti-Syrian leader, whose well armed Lebanese Christian forces have controlled parts of the Lebanese capital for the past two years in defiance of the government of President Elias Hrawi.

It was Hrawi who finally called on the Syrians for help to defeat Aoun, who was reportedly backed by Saddam Hussein of Iraq, a mortal enemy of Syrian President Hafez Assad.

Israel is concerned by the use of Syrian air power and artillery in support of the Lebanese army, which alone was unable to defeat Aoun.

But Uri Lubrani, coordinator of Israeli activities in southern Lebanon, noted in radio and television interviews Monday that the Syrian planes were used only against internal targets in Lebanon.

Israel’s policy, which is not to interfere in Lebanon as long as its vital interests are unaffected, remains unchanged, Lubrani said.

Other Israeli experts stressed that the Syrians crossed no “red lines,” the imaginary boundaries that would trigger an Israeli response if breached by Syrian forces.

Dr. Yosef Olmert, a specialist on Lebanon and Syria on leave from Tel Aviv University’s Dayan Center for Middle East Studies, observed that “right now there is no reason to conclude that Aoun’s ouster should affect our security interests” in southern Lebanon.

INCREASING DEPENDENCE ON SYRIA

Olmert, who currently heads the Government Press Office, warned, however, that the Lebanese and their Syrian partners might become over-confident from their victory over Aoun.

In the long run, Olmert said, they might try to extend the Beirut government’s control over southern Lebanon, including the security zone parallel to Israel’s border, which is policed by the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army.

He predicted, however, that Damascus would not be able to impose a “Pax Syriana” on Lebanon, which has been torn by civil war for more than 15 years and has no central government capable of maintaining law and order.

According to Olmert, “the Christian Lebanese forces, as opposed to the official but ineffective Lebanon army and Yasir Arafat’s (Palestinian) loyalists in the Sidon area, are some of the remaining barriers to full Syrian control.

“The logic of Lebanon is such that there is always a built-in opposition to one actor becoming too powerful,” he explained.

But a Syrian army of about 40,000 occupies large areas of Lebanon, a country smaller than Israel.

The Beirut government depends increasingly on Damascus, which could one day achieve its ambition to incorporate Lebanon into the Syrian state, Israelis fear.

The removal of Aoun is seen here as an indirect blow to Hussein of Iraq, whom the Christian general supported in return for support from Baghdad.

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